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Aquino stonewalled inquiry; cover-up underway

Despite its valiant efforts, the Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry’s (PNP BOI) report on why and how 44 Special Action Forces got helplessly trapped and massacred by Muslim insurgents on that fateful January day is far from complete.

The big reason for this is that President Benigno S. Aquino stonewalled its probe, and is now desperately trying to conceal what really happened: even as he was informed early that morning that the commandos have been cornered by the Muslim insurgents, he did little to order their rescue.

Aquino refused to be interviewed, declined to give his account of the event to the probe body, which to its credit did ask him. Indeed, those who, together with Aquino, rebuffed the PNP-BOI’s request seem to be guilty that they’re worried they might incriminate themselves or disclose Aquino’s criminal negligence if the PNP investigators interviewed them.

This is clear right on the first page of the report, in its Executive Summary:

“(The) BOI failed to secure an interview with the President, suspended Chief PNP Alan Purisima, Chief-of-Staff AFP General Gregorio Catapang and Lieutenant Rustico Guerrero. All concerned officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines refused to be interviewed by the BOI despite repeated requests.”

It’s understandable why Purisima refused to be interviewed. He is likely to face a court suit for violating the order of the Ombudsman and for usurpation of authority. It would be unlikely that Aquino’s best friend would see the inside of a jail cell or a military stockade while he is President. But with the case likely to drag on to the next administration, that could happen, and worse, he could lose his retirement benefits.

PNP-BOI report: Police asked for army artillery at 7 a.m.; Army fired phosphorus markers 11 hours later, at 6 p.m. Did Aquino tell them to do so?
PNP-BOI report: Police asked for army artillery at 7 a.m.; Army fired phosphorus markers 11 hours later, at 6 p.m. Did Aquino tell them to do so?

Catapang’s refusal to be interviewed by the PNP-BOI is unacceptable, as he could have very crucial information. If the armed forces hadn’t dilly-dallied in rescuing the Special Action Forces trapped by the insurgents, and if they just fired the phosphorus markers at 7 a.m. when they were asked to do so by PNP officials, and not 11 hours later, the 44 commandos would still be alive.

Or did Aquino give Catapang reasons to withhold their forces, which might be why they refused to be interviewed by the PNP-BOI?

Technically, it is only his Commander-in-Chief Aquino who could order him to be interviewed by the PNP-BOI. My bet is that it was Aquino himself, with the order relayed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who told him to stonewall the investigation.

Moral depravity

Aquino’s refusal to talk to the PNP-BOI probers, and even to just submit this account of the event, is not only an indication of his guilt but his moral depravity.

He called for what he pretended was a “prayer meeting” of evangelical groups, just for him to have a televised pulpit to give his account of the event, which was to put all blame on SAF director Getulio Napeñas, who didn’t have a chance to face his accuser.

Aquino refused to talk with the PNP probers, who might just ask the kind of questions that would show that he panicked and froze after the reports that the SAF were being massacred. The biggest lacuna in the PNP-BOI’s otherwise very comprehensive report: What did the President do that whole fateful day to save the SAF troopers?

He was informed that the operation didn’t go as planned at early morning. Aquino was not only the Commander-in-Chief but acted as strategic commander who helped plan the operation from its very inception and was privy even to its minutest details.

Yet there is no report, even in that of the PNP-BOI, that he called his security officials who were with him since the morning of that day in Zamboanga City to a crisis-conference to deal with the situation, to draw up a plan to rescue the trapped SAF forces.

After reading the PNP-BOI report and all other accounts of the Mamasapano event, I totally, completely stand by my columns almost three weeks ago, “Aquino got mad, panicked and closed his eyes to reality” (Feb. 24) and “Aquino orders SAF operations, then abandons his troops” (Feb. 5).

Even his speech at the “prayer meeting” last week, with all the blame heaped on Napeñas and all the details of the operation he disclosed, Aquino hasn’t explained a bit: “What did you do when you were informed the SAF were in trouble?”

Covering up his culpability in rescuing the SAF is this Administration’s main concern now. To the credit of the PNP-BOI, it reported a detail many have missed:

Missing messages?

“PDG Purisima’s sworn statement included, as an attachment, a transcript of his SMS exchange with the President on January 24, 2015. The BOI noted that such transcript did not consistently indicate the time when the SMS messages were sent and/or received by PDG Purisima or the President. Out of a total eleven SMS messages exchanged between them, only five messages indicated the time of transmission or receipt.”

“The BOI also observed that there appears to be an unusually long gap or an absence of SMS exchange between PDG Purisima and the President after 11:38 a.m. and before 6:20 p.m. The BOI could not determine on the basis of the submitted transcript if the eleven messages enumerated therein were the only SMS exchanges between PDG Purisima and the President on January 25, 2015. The BOI could not also determine … whether the absence of SMS exchanges between him and the President after 11:38 a.m. and before 6:20 p.m. indicates an absence of communication between two individuals during that period, or whether Purisima did not include in the transcript their SMS exchanges for that period.” (Emphasis added.)”

In short, the BOI was questioning why there were no SMS messages for seven hours after 11:38 a.m. Aquino’s last message, according to Purisima’s statement was actually at 10:16 a.m., which didn’t even ask about the situation of the SAF troops: “Basit should not get away.”

Is that what Purisima is hoping will make Aquino continue to back him up – that it would be devastating to the President if he made public their exchange of messages that he deleted in his transcript, which would show that the Commander-in-Chief just got mad, panicked, and abandoned his troops? Did Aquino paraphrase the infamous statement he made in the Yolanda episode: “May buhay pa naman sa kanila, ‘di ba?” Or did Aquino send angry messages cursing Purisima for the fiasco?

That the 10:16 a.m. message from Aquino was the last seems impossible given how Purisima and Aquino were frantically exchanging messages early in the morning, and especially since only the two were, in fact, running the operation.

The PNP-BOI emphasized how the President stonewalled the investigation, making it difficult to find out what he did on that fateful day by pointing out: “The Board likewise lacked access to the specific details of the activities of the President on January 25, 2015 in Zamboanga City that could have shed light on events prior to, during and after the operation.”

It also pointed out, quite significantly:
“The BOI did not have access to other crucial information such as call and SMS messages logs, and the text content of the SMS messages sent and received by majority of the key personalities before, during and after the execution of Oplan Exodus.”

“The Board requested key personalities to submit their cellular phones for digital forensic examination. CSAFP Catapang and Guerrero refused to submit their cellular phones to the BOI. Purisima also refused to turn over his cellular phone to the BOI.”

Why would they refuse to do so, if they had nothing to hide?